A blogging we should go…

Zviki Cohen, a microISV in startup mode, was kind enough to drop me a line about his new blog and a post he did outlining another microISV’s tactics for success: Xoreax Software (makers of a very useful C++ distributed compilation tool, IncrediBuild. Zviki’s post (and email to me) are excellent example that:

  • You don’t have to solve global warming in 500 words to do an interesting post – just write about something – or someone – you know interesting to your target audience.
  • Bullet lists, outlines and concise sentences make for a good post – his outline of what the Xoreax did to get their microISV started is to the point.
  • MicroISVs can thrive anywhere there’s electricity and broadband – don’t think for a minute that you have to live in the U.S., U.K. or Europe. Both Zviki and Uri Mishol, the CEO and co-founder of Xoreax happen to live in Israel. They could have be in Iceland or Peru for that matter: we all face many of the same problems in our second country of choice: the Internet.
  • Reach out to fellow microISV bloggers. Zviki sent me a short, friendly email – otherwise I might not have seen this post I’m recommending to you.

[tags]microISV, microISV blogging[/tags]

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Bob WalshA blogging we should go…

Google AdWords Q & A

By Dave Collins
Founder, Shareware Promotions

This article is a little out of the ordinary. A few months ago we put out a call for Google AdWords related questions, and after a few days of near silence, the tide switched and we were drowning in them.

We tried to choose the questions that we felt would be of most interest to the greatest number of people, but obviously couldn’t include every one.

And to spice things up a little, we have two qualified AdWords Professionals answering the questions! I myself have been AdWords Qualified for around two years, and our very own Aaron Weiner also recently qualified, thereby achieving Qualified Company status for our company.

Whether you’re new to the murky world of AdWords or a hardened, grizzled veteran, there should be something here for everyone.

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Question: My website already ranks well in natural search results, without my having to pay. Why should I bother with AdWords? Wouldn’t doing so be a waste of my money?

– Unsigned

Dave: So-called natural search results are great, if or when you can get them. But there are still plenty of important reasons for sticking with AdWords. Here are five to get you started.

1 – AdWords gives you control. You decide exactly what is displayed, where it’s displayed, when it’s displayed, on which networks, how much you’re prepared to pay for it and where the visitor is taken when they click your ad.

2 – AdWords gives you speed. Getting new (or old) content indexed by the search engines can be a thankless task, sometimes even impossible. New websites may even take twelve months or longer to rank in the search results. AdWords, on the other hand, gets you up and running in minutes.

3 – Your high-ranking natural results position may have disappeared entirely by tomorrow. Not running AdWords would mean that your Google traffic vanishes overnight.

4 – Your ranking in the natural search results will vary widely, according to geographical location, language, browser and personal preferences. If you’re serious about wanting to sell to the world, you need to make sure that you reach them. And stay in control.

5 – If AdWords doesn’t work then your ads won’t be clicked. If they don’t get clicked, you won’t be charged. And never forget that if your ad isn’t there, they’ll be clicking on your competition.

Aaron: If you want your AdWords ad to be in first place, you are in complete control. You pick the keyword, the price you’re prepared to pay and you write the exact ad text, which should be far more captivating then a natural search result listing.

If, on the other hand, you want your natural search results to be in top position, this is no easy task. Natural search results are based on a large number of factors, including website content, how your page ranks amongst other pages with similar content, link popularity and more. You may also enjoy a top position which drives large amounts of traffic to your site, only to have it vanish without warning when Google update their index and ranking algorithms. Working yourself back to the top can be somewhere between extremely difficult and impossible. AdWords can be a more cost-effective route to the top.

Also don’t forget that Google want their visitors to click on the ads. A lot of time and money has been spent on making sure that they’re clicked, including highlighting some of the top performing ads with a (new) different colour background and putting them at the very top of the page.

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Question: How do you decide which ads to keep and which to delete? Do you decide based on the CTR * conversion rate, or something else?

Andy Brice – http://www.perfecttableplan.com

Dave: The blessing of AdWords is that you have so much information at your disposal. The curse of AdWords is that you have too much information at your disposal.

The classic mistake is to choose the low performers based on CTR alone. This is considerably less than half the equation.

You need to take into account the ad’s CTR, how it converts, how much you pay for it, and what else the visitor to your site may do after clicking the ad. Once you factor in the keyword’s impact on the equation as well, you start drowning in data at an alarming rate.

Realistically, your decision should be based on a limited number of factors. I usually look at visitor behaviour once the ad is clicked, the cost of bringing them in, CTR and cost per conversion.

I did try to work this out as a weighted formula but I think I passed out (or fell asleep) while trying.

Also don’t forget that your ad isn’t shown in isolation. Behavioural patterns change with time, as do the ads of your competition. So what works today may not tomorrow.

Aaron: In an ideal world, a successful ad is one that sends the most visitors to your website, at a very low price, who then purchase your products,. Measuring or achieving that is very difficult. A high click through rate does not necessarily mean a successful ad. For example, if your ad says, “free plasma TV”, I suspect that your click through rate would be extremely high for all the wrong reasons. Unless, that is, you actually giving away free plasma TVs. If you are, please contact me. [Or better still Dave].

As for working with the conversion rates, Google’s conversion tracking is extremely limited. For example, the person who clicked on your ad and downloaded the product may not be the person who makes the purchase. And even assuming that the downloader and purchaser are the same, Google’s conversion tracking is little more than a fairly basic cookie system. If the cookie cannot be set, the conversion occurs after 30 days of the ad click or the cookies is deleted, then the conversion is not counted.

You might argue that some data is better than none. But how do you know how accurate it is? Is their system catching 40% of the conversions or 90%?

Personally I like to compare the AdWords ad results against web logs. For example I check to see if traffic from the ads is venturing on throughout the website or exiting upon arrival.

It’s also important to remember that this is an ongoing process. Not only will you never have a perfect ad [unless Dave creates it], but you also need to constantly create new ads and delete those that don’t perform well.

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Question: I have an AdWords account that has languished, because I haven’t been willing to spend the time on it. I’m pretty sure I’m losing money (or more precisely, not making the money I could be) because of it.

I’m about ready to jump back into it, but I’m feeling a little overwhelmed. I’d like to manage my account myself, but I’m worried about the initial set-up – that I don’t have the expertise to do all the fine-level tweaking that could make a difference in setting up successful ads and campaigns.

I’d love to employ your company to set up my campaigns for me, but I don’t think I can afford it. So is there some middle ground available? Where I would set things up to the best of my ability, then have your company review my work and make recommendations?

Sue Pichota – http://www.icons-icons.com

Dave: The short answer is that our AdWords services aren’t cheap, and I can of course appreciate that spending over $1000 a month for an account to be managed may not be realistic for some.

We do, however, offer consultation services, currently priced at US $250 per hour. For most accounts, two or three hours should enough time for us to have a look round and send detailed instructions as to how it can be improved.

Details of our consultation package may be found at the following URL: http://www.sharewarepromotions.com/consultation.html

If you’re going to do the whole thing yourself, a good starting point is to sketch out how your campaigns and ad groups should be structured. Ideally. Once you’ve got a structure and setup you like, you then need to decide whether you can apply the changes to your existing setup, or whether it’s easier to delete everything and start from scratch.

If you’re going to fix what you have, then I strongly recommend using AdWords Editor. Shuffling keywords, moving ads and applying mass changes is infinitely easier and faster than doing so through your web browser.

Aaron: If you prefer to set up your account on your own, I would make the following suggestions:

•    Check out Google’s AdWords learning center.

•    Don’t mix the content network with Google search and search partners.

•    Create more than one ad in each of your ad groups.

•    Track your efforts, but don’t get bogged down in the data.

•    Keep your campaigns, ad groups, keywords, ads and landing pages focused on the target.

•    Don’t let your account work on autopilot.

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Question: Lately Google’s been driving me crazy with the “Keyword Inactive for Search” thing. I read all their hints, what goes into the Quality Rating and all the BS I could find on their site. Modified my ads re: their suggestions and for a while all was well.

My prime keyword is “flashcards”. After the modifications above they rated it OK and suggested a minimum bid of .20, which I went with. It had previously been disabled, even though I was bidding .30.

“Great”, I thought, “all this will be worthwhile and even save me a little money”. But NO… within a couple of days “flashcards” was again “Inactive for Search” with a bid of .40 required to turn it on. I queried Google, but they just pointed out that the Quality rating was Poor…. Well, duh, WHY is it poor? I followed all the guidelines. BTW, I have content match turned off across the board.

Dick Bryant – http://www.openwindow.com

Dave: I can’t help but admire the whole concept of Quality Score. It’s little short of brilliant.

The AdWords system involves a careful balance of Google’s two main priorities; relevance and revenue. If enough of Google’s visitors search for a term, click on your ads and stay there, the keyword will be classed as relevant. If, on the other hand, they don’t stay on your site, but instead hit the back button in their browser, you’re classed as less relevant, and so you have to pay more.

Google give you a massive amount of information from within the AdWords account, but there’s also a lot they don’t show you. For example, when people click on your ads, Google know how many of them stay on your website and how many return to Google. They also know how long they spend there before returning.

Wouldn’t that be useful information to have?

The obvious question is why don’t Google provide you with this? Call me a conspiracy theorist if you must, but I don’t think it’s in their interests to. After all, if one of your ads was getting 100 clicks a day at $0.20 per click, and all 100 visitors went back to Google after clicking your ad, would you carry on paying for it?

In your situation, Google have deemed the keyword to have low relevance. Chances are they’re right. You can either set up a landing page that is optimised for this term, decide that the keyword really isn’t a good fit, or keep paying more for the keyword. I don’t recommend the third option.

Aaron: In my experience, whenever I see the “Inactive for search” message, it is usually down to a keyword not fitting the ad group, ads and/or landing page. The keyword “flashcards” is a very broad term. Anyone who searches for “free printable flashcards”, “number flashcards” and many more phrases would see your ads. Is your product relevant to all of them?

In your case, it would appear that Google do not feel that your ads or landing page are relevant to most people searching for “flashcards”. Pay them a little more and they’ll indulge you.

If you’re not prepared to raise your bids, then your only other options are to improve your ads, your landing page or both.

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Question: Are results for keywords using Wordtracker as an example, which to me seems to be targeted at Search Engine Optimisation, automatically the best result for adwords?

Peter Muys – http://www.brainstreamer.com

Dave: The idea of services and tools like WordTracker is to find the keywords that people interested in your software are using for the searches. The critical point is that you can’t predict what people may be searching for, but chances are that they’re looking for different phrases than you might expect.

Whether you’re using keyword research for SEO or Google AdWords, these services are ideal. The only real difference is that you’re not as concerned by the “extra” data. All you need are the relevant keywords.

Aaron: I use Wordtracker for AdWords keyword research. While your AdWords account does provide a keyword tool, I find it to be as good as useless. It’s highly inaccurate and often gives a lot of irrelevant results.

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Question: I heard Dave Collins speak at the Shareware Convention last year. I remember he said to monitor the Adwords campaigns and that it was a mistake to set them up and not monitor them. The problem I have is that I am monitoring my campaign. But I cannot seem to get definitive data to direct my actions.

For example, I’ll receive reports that indicate one ad outperforms the other ads. So I’ll think maybe I should get rid of the other ads and use the higher performing ad. But then I’ll receive reports showing the higher performing ad performed worse than the other ads. I cannot get consistent data to draw any conclusions.

I also have the same ads going to different landing pages. One week, the ads will perform better with a Google-specific landing page. But on different weeks, the same ad will perform better going to the home page.

Please help! Do you have any suggestions on how to make sense of it and direct my actions to get more consistent data?

Kim Murdock – http://www.magsoftwrx.com

Dave: This is quite a common situation. The trends in your actual data will change on an ongoing basis, as the people searching, their search terms and search behaviour patterns will be in constant flux.

There are a number of steps that you can take to make sense of all the data.

First of all, make sure that you’re looking at a big enough data sample. One day’s data is never enough, and at the very minimum you should be giving your ads and keywords a full week to generate data. Sometimes longer, depend on the volume of impressions and clicks you receive.

Secondly, when you’re looking at data, look in units of seven days (7, 14, 21 etc) so as to make sure you get an accurate sample. Nine days could include one weekend or two, which can have a major impact on what you’re looking at.

Thirdly, make sure that you allow enough time for your changes to really kick in. New ads, for example, can sometimes take a long time to be approved for the content network. Making alterations seven days after adding new ads may not be anywhere near long enough.

Fourthly, don’t alter too much at the same time. If, for example, you log into your account today and add new keywords, new ads, different bids, different budgets and point to new landing pages, you won’t be able to point to the reason for your success or failure in a few weeks’ time. The AdWords system is complicated enough without running in circles, chasing your own tail.

And finally, the murkier the results, the more time you need to look at. A one week pattern may be completely misleading, but if you look at data for the past two or three months, you should get a better idea of what’s working and what isn’t.

Aaron: I think you are going to have a problem finding consistent data. The AdWords traffic is constantly changing. What worked this week, might not work next week or next month. And something that failed this week might actually work next week or next month.

What is important is to always experiment by optimizing what you have. Look at the last 7 days; look at the last 30 days. Purge what is not working and expand on what is working.

It’s also important not to get lost in the data and keep things in perspective.

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Question: What percentage of clicks do you think are fraudulent? How much do you think the average small developer spends on wasted clicks?

Sharon Housley – http://www.notepage.net

Dave: This is an impossible question to answer with any accuracy. Generally speaking, I think that most accounts will experience some level of click fraud, but I assume that isn’t quite as precise an answer as you hoped for!

Google’s approach to handling click fraud is of critical importance to their profits. Being seen as indifferent and dismissive risks advertisers being scared away. Being overly active might also have the same effect, by drawing attention to something that the advertisers haven’t (yet) worried about.

The bottom line is that Google are undoubtedly aware of how widespread click fraud could become, and how damaging that could be for them. Because of this, they are definitely taking active steps to detect and prevent it.

If advertisers lose faith in the AdWords system, they’ll move away en-masse, and I believe that a serious loss in confidence could destroy Google in a matter of months. Ultimately, they have a lot more to lose from click fraud than most of their advertisers.

It’s also worth mentioning that I’ve usually been very impressed at how Google respond to claims of fraud. I have presented them with irrefutable evidence that click fraud took place for one of our clients, and to their credit, they eventually agreed and compensated us more than reasonably.

The bottom line: keep an eye on it, but sleep well at night. Google are doing the same, on both counts.

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Question(s): (a) Currently I only run my Adwords in English speaking countries. Do you recommend branching out further and, if so, which countries are amenable to support only in the English language?

(b) I currently split my ads into separate campaigns for U.S. and non-U.S.

English speaking countries. I have found that ads that work well for one don’t always work well for the other. Given question (a), are there further geographic regions you recommend splitting the campaigns across?

(c) I just signed up for Google Checkout and now have the little Checkout logo beneath my Adwords listings. Does it improve or deter click-throughs?

(d): What are the factors you consider when deciding whether to create a new Group or a new Campaign?

Nicholas Hebb – http://www.breezetree.com

Dave: I don’t know which countries are amenable to English language only support, but if a person is searching in English, the odds are probably in your favour. Choose the countries, select your ads to only display in English, and let Google handle the delivery complications.

As to whether you should expand into non-English speaking countries, why not? Our company only works in English, yet we have worked with companies from more than 30 different countries. If there are people in non-English countries searching for what you sell, in English, then why not give it to them? Try it, track your results and decide how to proceed.

As for how to split the campaigns, there are an almost unlimited number of possibilities. The main issue, as always, is time. Bearing in mind you want to track everything you do, try to avoid setting yourself up for data overload.

As for the Google Checkout logo? I have no idea. If it attracts attention then why not? But the advantage (if there is one) may be quite short lived. As an AdWords tactic, it if works, I predict an increasing number of people signing up for Google checkout, which may result in many (or even most) ads soon having that logo. You have to hand it to Google.

To answer your final question, campaigns give far more control than ad groups, but handling twenty campaigns for forty keywords would be somewhat time consuming.

Consider the analogy of a filing cabinet. For obvious reasons you wouldn’t want a separate drawer for every bank account, utility bill, licence, warranty, insurance policy etc. Nor would you want “anything to do with money” in one single folder.

Where budgetary control is needed you want a campaign. Where streamlining is needed, ad groups are the better option. Pick and choose as you see fit, according to your criteria.

Aaron: For questions (a) and (b), I think this boils down to time. In an ideal world, it would be great to have a campaign set up for each language, and each country, and then each of these would be further split into three more campaigns; one for Google search, one for the search partners and one for the content network.

You could go even further with an ad group for each keyword, where ads would be based on that one single keyword. But the time and effort that you would need to manage this would be incredible.

I would be surprised to find that people in Germany, France or China do not perform searches for flowcharting software in English. If your ads are not being displayed to those countries, you may be missing out on sales opportunities.

For your question on when to make a campaign and when to make an ad group, it’s all about control and time. Campaigns give you all the control, while ad groups offer flexibility through shared control. At the campaign level, you can choose your budget, the languages, geographic region, the various networks and more. At the ad group level, you share with all other groups within that campaign.

Let’s say you have one campaign where you have chosen the Google search, search partners and content network. You will not be able to focus 75% of your daily budget on the Google search and search partners and have only 25% of the daily budget for the content network. The only way to set separate budgets would be to have separate campaigns for each.

The problem with separation is time. The more campaigns, the more ad groups, and the more time it takes to manage your account. Finding the right balance is key.

++++++++

Dave Collins is the CEO of SharewarePromotions http://www.sharewarepromotions.com, a well established UK-based software marketing company. Dave specialises in Google AdWords, Log Analysis, Online Marketing and Delegation.

[Editor Note: Dave Collins, noted UK micro-ISV marketing expert, is sharing his considerable expertise on marketing, SEO, Google AdWords and more on Fridays at MyMicroISV. Thanks Dave!]

[tags] Dave Collins, microISV, AdWords[/tags]

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Bob WalshGoogle AdWords Q & A

Keep and eye on this guy…

Nick Brawn launched his microISV product, Shinobi Scanner, last week for the Mac OS, and already he’s passing on info you can use in your company:

  • Cut, cut, cut to get 1.0 out the door: If it isn’t essential, leave it out.
  • Don’t call it 1.0 Beta if you’re going to release 1.1 next. Just call it 1.0.
  • Everybody loves screenshots: My screenshots page has the most hits so far.
  • Don’t be afraid of getting feedback. Be afraid of getting NO feedback.
  • Figure out the biggest point-of-pain and document it.

Nick’s off to a great start – and I’m keeping my eye on him because he’s good good information to share at his blog.

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Bob WalshKeep and eye on this guy…
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Office Live might be for you.

za101996991033.gifI spent the day yesterday getting the lowdown on Microsoft Office Live from Don Campbell, Microsoft’s OL evangelist – there’s definitely two potential opportunities there for microISVs. Office Live has nothing whatsoever to do with Excel and Word online – it’s Microsoft’s play to be an ISP for reluctant adopter small businesses who are now getting around to be building some sort of web presence for themselves – about 10 million in the US alone.

Since November, about 400,000 have taken Microsoft up on its offer of free web hosting and domain name registration, ultra-easy web site design via the slickest template system I’ve ever seen and the ability to build simple work flows (submit a reservation for the B & B from its OL site and when the proprietor approves it out goes the confirmation email, the time is booked out in an online calendar and an invoice created in Word 2007.)

webpagecreator_1.jpg

There’s some higher end stuff you can get into here too: the ability to host mashups, to call Office Live via web services from your .NET/WPF/Silverlight application, the ability to build some rather sophisticated work flows for clients you might garner from the OL world.

You can sign up for free (80% of that 400,000 did just that), or up the ante to $19.95 or $39.95 a month. What you get for your money includes online document collaboration (works in Office 2003, much slicker in Office 2007), email accounts, more space, more company users.

So why should you as a microISV care?

  • If you sell a product or service (say web design), you can access a nice size pool of prospective customers who haven’t bought into anyone else’s way of doing business for the price of setting up a free account and populating a profile page at the Office Live Marketplace.
  • If you want to go a step further and provide your service inside the Office Live biodome, you can, and since Microsoft is eagerly looking for partners small and large to do just that, you will get prominent play. For example, there’s a company called Ring Central that sells an interesting virtual PBX service that has made its HTML badge available in Office Live – add it to your site and when customers click it Ring Central calls both them and you – and you can define which number to call at what time, who to call, etc. I can see microISVs like InvoicePlace taking advantage of this.
  • If you do consulting and/or sell products and you want someone else to manage the plumbing, Office Live may in the future (early 2008) be the right place for you. But two key components – a registration system for your customers/clients and an ecommerce module are not there yet.

All in all, Office Live has some interesting possibilities for microISVs selling to micro businesses – check it out. Here’s some links Don Campbell forwarded:

Office Live Developer Portal (Mashups and code samples are here)

Office Live Marketplace

Developer Screencasts on Channel 9

Mix 07 Presentation/Demo Recording (including a good PowerPoint overview of Office Live)

Don Campbell’s Blog (He blogs about Office Live topics, including some of the ways you can use JavaScript within the Office Live framework.)

[tags]Office Live, microISVs[/tags]

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Bob WalshOffice Live might be for you.
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Office Live Dog and pony time

za101996991033.gifI’m off today to an all day presentation at Microsoft’s Silicon Valley Outpost on Office Live. Why is this worth an entire day of my life? I think because there’s a whole bunch of nice business infrastructure stuff now available in OL and having seen last month some of these functionalities, I want to know more. Also, this is one of the few times I’ve seen a Microsoft event targetted specifically at microISVs

More about what’s in Office Live for microISVs tomorrow.

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Bob WalshOffice Live Dog and pony time

It’s a business, not a hobby

By Bob Walsh

A post this morning at Business of Software reminded me of an important point: microISVs are businesses with all of the advantages and disadvantages of that particular kind of activity. If you thought the number of scams, spams and ripoff artists you have to fend off as an individual are a pain in the ass, wait until you’ve been in business a few years!

Today’s case in point: the veritable firm of Dun and Bradstreet which for decades before the internet provided businesses with a useful credit report on other businesses. This allowed companies not even in the same state to do business with some degree of confidence that that shipment of iron flanges would actually get paid for.

Today, we have the net, we have Google and the first thing anyone does when starting a business relationship (and most personal relationships!) is check the net, just to be sure.

The Internet has not been kind to Dun and Bradstreet – they are returning the favor. Personally, I get a call a quarter these guys re why my company absolutely cannot exist another day without its very own D&B number. Like offers of being in yellow pages, leasing financing, account receivable financing, and remanufactured printer cartridges, I need this like fish need shoes. My business resides in zip code 00000 – the Net.

Reading today’s post makes me so glad I never bought into their line of bull.

I have no way of verifying this post independently, but it jibs with my personal experience with D&B:

“Because they have no data on me and can’t give me a good credit rating, they are ‘forced’ to issue a “Risk of Late Payment Indicator” alert on my business. Naturally I can fix all of that for the small fee of $549 USD. And, I can’t remove my company from their database.”

How’s that for nasty?

As a microISV, you’re a small business person. And that means just because you push bytes out the door not dry cleaned laundry you simply can’t afford to not put on your Small Business Person Hat on a regular basis and do that work. That means, at the very least, plugging into some of the really good general small business sites out there.

Three of the very best sites?

  • Startup Nation at http://www.startupnation.com/ This site goes on and on and on and while you may have the urge to snicker at forum questions like, “Should you have a web site”, these guys are really good at getting the general business stuff down.
  • The Small Business Administration at http://www.sba.gov/ This is one of the best resources you can tap into for general business information, but most of the really good stuff resides in the heads of the people who work in the U.S. for and with the SBA. There are times when it’s worth it to pass up the convenience of doing everything online: Where else can you get free or low cost classes followed up with free unlimited business consulting and mentoring services?
  • My friend, Pamela Slim’s blog at http://www.escapefromcubiclenation.com/ Pam is one of the very best general startup business consultants out there; reading her posts is like getting a targeted MBA in how to make your business succeed.

Takeaway for today: You are a small business owner, and small business owners get scammed at least three times more than individuals because they have more money to steal either via dodgy business practices or outright fraud and extortion. Do yourself a favor and put on the Small Business Person hat on a regular basis.

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Bob WalshIt’s a business, not a hobby

Copywriting for Developers

By Dave Collins
Founder, Shareware Promotions

Unless I’m either missing something or getting older and less tolerant, standards of written English are sliding. One of the many (many) issues that irritate me is the way that people often hear a word, latch onto it, and start using it excessively without having any idea what it means.

People just seem to sometimes like the sound of phrases like “focus group” and “end user”. Why? I have no idea. “Metrics” is another good example. Languages develop with time, and words sometimes grow into new roles, but I keep hearing this particular word used as a substitute for maths, calculations, measurements, figures, data, conclusions, common sense, decisions, directions, strategy and more. I’ve heard the phrase “Do the metrics!” three times in one week, and only today (at the time of starting to write this article) had an email asking if my company handles metrics.

How do I answer that? Only if A>0? 42?

Another word that is often thrown around with little concern for accuracy is copywriting. Aside from the people who seem to think that it has something to do with copyright, many assume that copywriting is just a funky way of saying writing.

Not so.

Wikipedia defines the word as the process of writing the words that promote a person, business, opinion or idea, which I think is spot on. Their definition also notes that the main purpose of writing such marketing copy is to persuade the reader to act – to buy a product for instance.

So website copywriting is about writing persuasive and promotional text that convinces visitors that your product can solve a problem they have. Really good copywriting will even convince them that they have a problem without having previously been aware of it.

A good copywriter is like a talented salesperson – something that has become increasingly rare nowadays. A good salesperson speaks to you in the right tone, effectively convinces you that you need what they’re selling, and if they’re really good at it, they’ll not only do so without annoying you in the slightest, but they’ll have you thanking them for it.

With this in mind, let’s take a look at some real examples of text that most definitely do not qualify as copywriting. They are all genuine examples, taken from the first paragraph of various websites index pages, but have been slightly altered to protect the identity and dignity of their owners.

“Sound Power is a sound mixing software application for the sound controls that each properly installed and operating sound device should exhibit. Sound Power is also extremely ergonomic and offers extended functionality.”

Huh?

If you persevere and read it a few times, chances are that you’ll be able to extract and extrapolate the meaning behind the words. But text like this doesn’t exactly encourage you to purchase the product does it? And the important point is that visitors to your website will not extract, interpret and extrapolate. They won’t work hard to understand what you’re trying to say.

“E-Z-X-tract copies CDs, converts audio files from one format to another, and burns audio, MP3, WMA, and regular CDs.”

This isn’t the worst copy I’ve ever come across, but does it inspire you? Does it ignite your interest? Grab your attention? Compel you to read more? Of course not. It’s functional, drab and utterly uninspiring. The only reason you’d reach for your wallet would be to use it as a makeshift pillow.

“This is a tool which lets you make your own screensaver. Simply drag and drop the images you want and you can make your own professional screensaver in seconds.”

Again, dull as a dishrag. I don’t understand why people want screensavers, and I certainly don’t get why they’re prepared to pay for them. But the fact is that they do. Screensavers are all about personal taste; they can be funny, impressive, cool or beautiful. But the key factor is that no-one needs screensavers; they want them. So your copy is going to have to do better than that.

Now for anyone reading this article who doesn’t know me or hasn’t met me, I should point out that I’m British. I’m therefore tempted to carry on ridiculing good examples of bad copywriting until my sarcasm finally dries up. But it isn’t going to get you anywhere, aside from bored or amused depending on your disposition.

So I’ll resist my impulses to point and sneer, and will instead focus on what you can do to improve your website’s copy.

Ultimately, most examples of website copy take the same form. Headline, body, illustration and action items.

The headline is there to fulfil one purpose only. To act as bait, and to catch the attention of the visitor to your website.

It needs to be clear, it needs to grab their attention, it needs to communicate the benefits of what you’re selling, and it needs to be instantly understood.

Common mistakes include using a headline that is too long, focusing on the wrong details, focusing on features over benefits and the most common – simply creating confusion.

On the main page of our own website, we offer two headlines right next to each other:

“ease your workload” and “increase your sales”.

There are no clever word plays, no attempts to convey details, and no padding or waffle. They are short, sharp and brutally clear. And they work. They both get a lot of clicks.

Just like their newspaper counterparts, the most important requirements for an effective headline are that they are instantly visible and clear.

Get it right, and you’ll have your visitors attention. But only briefly. From this point the body, illustrations and action items need to kick in.

One of the more common mistakes that I see is waffle. Maybe it’s the online equivalent of nervous chatter, but some web designers seem afraid to only say what they need to.

Once your visitor has decided that they may be interested in what you’re selling, they won’t initially be looking for your mission statement, your history, where you’re based, your favourite animal or music tastes. They need the bare facts. But even the barest of facts still need to be well written.

Bullet points are often quite effective, but some companies go overboard. I recently saw a website listing more than twenty bullet points at the top of the main page! The problem with too many words is that they dilute what you’re trying to say. Keep it as brief as you can.

Another common mistake is to focus on features instead of benefits. Features are for software sites, over-zealous geeky users and overly-proud developers. Users don’t care about them. They want to know what your software can do for them and why they need it.

They also need quick and easy access to all the information they may be looking for. The product’s price, testimonials, ordering information, contact information and so on. Whatever they need shouldn’t be squeezed into the main page, but there should be clearly visible links to these pages; wherever they are on your website.

And last but not least, a little bit of reassurance goes a long way. Irrespective of who you think you may be selling to, there are always customers who need a little hand-holding when it comes to parting with their cash. Talking to them in a language they understand can not only be reassuring, but can mean the difference between a visitor and a customer.

The language that you use on your website is the online equivalent of your manner and tone. If you come across as pushy, sleazy or inept, your visitors will be gone before you’ve even started to convince them about your product. Come across as professional, trustworthy and informed and they’ll be far more receptive to your sales pitch.

Be seen, be sold.

++++++++

Dave Collins is the CEO of SharewarePromotions http://www.sharewarepromotions.com, a well established UK-based software marketing company. Dave specialises in Google AdWords, Log Analysis, Online Marketing and Delegation.

[Editor Note: Dave Collins, noted UK micro-ISV marketing expert, is sharing his considerable expertise on marketing, SEO, Google AdWords and more on Fridays at MyMicroISV. Thanks Dave!]

[tags] Dave Collins, microISV, marketing[/tags]

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Bob WalshCopywriting for Developers

How not to run your microISV: Crazybusy

If there’s one occupational disease microISVs fall prey to it’s that frenzic state of mental overload known as being crazybusy. Between 150 emails, skype, a cell phone, a landline, new customers asking old questions, IM, twitter, more email, trying to get a bug patch done, and maybe, just maybe actually doing some development, most (me too) microISVs spend their days in and on a psychological state of total Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD). Their are crazybusy, and they (we!) need help.

This week on Channel Nine’s The MicroISV Show, Michael Lehman and I talk with Dr. Edward Hallowell, author of the book “CrazyBusy – Overstretched, Overbooked and About to Snap! Strategies for Coping in a World Gone ADD”. Dr. Hallowell has some very, very good advice for developers on how to stop being overwhelmed, overstressed, overclocked and how to get productive again.

[tags]CrazyBuzy,microISV[/tags]

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Bob WalshHow not to run your microISV: Crazybusy

MEASURING FOR SUCCESS PART II:

By Dave Collins
Founder, Shareware Promotions

In the initial Measuring For Success post we looked at the baffling phenomena of developers who don’t do metrics. We went through my personal Top Eight Reasons for getting to grips with metrics, the tools I think you need for doing so, and why you shouldn’t rely on your “free” website stats.

Now that we’ve got the basics out of the way, let’s take a look at some of the issues that you need to be aware of when trying to separate the gold from the sand in your server logs.

(1) Robots.

I assume that everyone reading this will understand what a search engine robot is, but do you also know how active they can be when visiting, scanning and indexing your website?

Assuming that your website has a lot of solid content and is regularly updated, then the search engine spiders will be paying a lot more attention to your website than you may realise.

Looking at the logs for our main website (www.sharewarepromotions.com), I can see that all of the main pages (around thirty or so) have been hit by Google’s spiders within the last three days.

And depending on your choice of analysis software, the search engine spiders may show up as regular hits. Be aware.

(2) Browser cache.

Most web browsers by default use some sort of system of caching the web pages they have viewed. The problem is that if a person comes to your website and their browser displays the cached version instead, they won’t see any new content, and they may not even show up in your logs.

On top of this, many ISPs use their own caches to prevent having to download and display massive numbers of the identical pages to many users.

There are various solutions out there, but the most important thing is to be aware of the impact this may have on your logs.

(3) Shared IP addresses.

This particular issue is more or less self-explanatory. Large numbers of people may share the same IP addresses, and depending on the log analysis application you’re using, this may distort the data.

Ten people all sharing the same IP address may show up as one person. And if your log analysis software is clumsy, they may also display one person visiting your site twice as two different visitors.

(4) Blocked referrals.

Irrespective of which software you use, the most common referrer will almost certainly be identified as no referrer/unknown, or will simply be left out of the report altogether. So chances are that you won’t know where most of your visitors came from.

There are five main possible reasons for this:

i) The visitor came to your website from their bookmarks or favorites.

ii) The visitor clicked on an email link. Perhaps your signature, someone else’s email or the many thousands of spam you’ve been sending, Shame on you.

iii) A new window was generated by the website displaying your link.

iv) The URL was entered manually.

v) The visitor is using a browser setting, add-on or plugin to protect their privacy. Privacy sucks.

Whatever the reason, there’s little you can do about it. But forewarned is forearmed.

(5) Download managers.

These have the potential to make a horrible mess of your data. Most work by simultaneously hitting the same file several times. So even though one single person is downloading the file, the fact that their download manager is set to create five active download sessions means that the logs will display five hits. Not good.

The more astute readers of this article will by now have noticed two things.

Firstly that I’m pointing out problems without offering solutions. Why? Partly because not all problems have solutions, partly because I’m trying to stop this article from being too long, but mainly because my aim is to simply bring these issues to your attention.

If at some point you wonder why the website you’re advertising on isn’t showing up as a referrer, then you’ll thank me. Maybe.

The second thing noticed by the more discerning reader is that I have made repeated mention of the way that your log analysis software functions.

The fact is that no two log analysis applications behave in the same way. And the astonishing fact is that if you run (for example) a month’s data through five different log analyzers, you probably won’t find a single item that any two will agree on. For that matter you may be pushing it to find two applications that even come close to each other.

There are two main reasons for the lack of agreement. One is that some of the applications are simply badly written and clumsy, and seem to lean more towards speed than accuracy.

The second reason is that each application has its own way of dealing with the grey areas as identified above.

Whether it’s down to different people using the same PCs and/or internet connection, browsers that block referral information or people walking away from their machines leaving the browser open, there are a massive number of facts that are open to interpretation.

The more accurate applications often try to interpret anomalies and recognise patterns, but this sometimes means that log analysis is less exact a science than many users might expect.

So once you know what the issues are and how much (or little) to trust your log analysis app of choice, the next obvious question is what to look for.

Many of the better applications try to only pick out the pertinent facts, yet there’s also a lot to be said for having access to all the information, so as to be able to filter out what you’re looking for.

The importance and relevance of the data available really depends on what you’re looking for. Here are some of the standard items that I usually look for.

VISITORS:

The visitors to your website come in three flavours; and it’s not the good, the bad and the ugly. Total visitors, unique visitors and return visitors.

If your log analysis software only lets you see the total number, then you should probably be looking at patterns and trends. Almost all websites follow some sort of weekly pattern, and many will also demonstrate other regular trends, in terms of days or times of the year with more/less traffic and downloads.

It’s also important not to let your own software’s habits confuse you here. For example, I’ve seen applications that hit a page on the developer’s website when they start up. If you’re doing the same sort of thing, you should (a) be aware of this and (b) hit a page, image or file that isn’t linked in from your website.

Long term analysis should also let you see which are your website’s busy and quiet times of the year. Do these patterns conform to your sales trends too? If not then why not? Opportunities abound.

ENTRY PAGES:

Knowing which of your pages are popular entry points is vital, as visitors arriving here will receive their first impressions of your website, product/s and company.

Are your most common entry pages set up to do so? Can they be improved? Are there clear links to the rest of your site? And should so many people be arriving at these pages?

EXIT PAGES:

Often overlooked, the pages that most of your visitors leave from is also of extreme importance. Many websites with a healthy level of incoming links and search engine prominence will have a fairly high number of visitors who simply aren’t interested in what you’re selling.

Many companies will therefore see the main index page as the most popular entry page, and may see a surprisingly high number of people leave from the page without going further.

This is more or less to be expected, but when you look through which of your other pages have high exit rates, you may be quite surprised. Pages that you may have thought were very effective may actually prove to be black holes – swallowing up visitors who disappear without a trace.

TIME SPENT:

Another often overlooked vital statistic.

A basic example.

Let’s say you’re running a Google AdWords campaign that sends you 500 visitors a day for $0.02 each. $10 for 500 visitors might seem like quite good value.

But what if you looked through your logs and saw that of those 500 visitors, the average time spent was 0.5 seconds?

Something would be very wrong, obviously.

How long visitors should spend on your pages depends on who they are, where they come from, how much information is on the page and how you’re presenting it. But if you take all these factors into account you should be able to identify which pages are working well, and which could do with some improvement.

LINKS CLICKED:

The links clicked from each page tell you a lot, but don’t forget to look at the page and see where these links are physically located.

Chances are that links towards the top of the page will get more clicks than those at the bottom.

I’ve seen web pages for software with only one download link, right at the very bottom of a long page. And this is a good idea? (Hint: No.)

Where the links are placed, how they stand out and the text and/or images used can massively affect how many clicks they receive. Experiment and reap the benefits.

PATHS:

Most log analysis applications have some sort of path function, that lets you see the most common routes that visitors take when travelling through your website. Most are very inaccurate but will still probably open your eyes to behavioural patterns that you could never have predicted. Watch, recognise, learn and respond.

TARGET PAGES:

Some of the pages on your website are more important than others. Obviously you want visitors to buy and try your software, but you probably have other pages that you feel do a good job of convincing them along the way.

How popular are these pages? And more importantly, how much more can you do to increase the percentage of visitors who go to these pages? Another hint: the answer is a lot.

The bottom line is that log analysis isn’t just about number crunching. It’s about understanding why your visitors do what they do, realising what can be done to improve the figures and patterns, and getting a better return on the traffic that you’re already receiving.

Thorough log analysis is no more about number crunching than dentistry is about brute force with a drill. The software performs all the numerical analysis for you. Now you need to apply what you know, understand what you see and join the dots. It’s somewhere between in-depth detective work and a jigsaw puzzle with many fiendishly small pieces.

But the effort will pay off. Set aside time for regular analysis of your web logs and you can only gain. Visitors to your website are hard to come by, so the more of them you can convert to downloads and sales the better.

Be seen, be sold.

++++++++

Dave Collins is the CEO of SharewarePromotions http://www.sharewarepromotions.com, a well established UK-based software marketing company. Dave specialises in Google AdWords, Log Analysis, Online Marketing and Delegation.

[Editor Note: Dave Collins, noted UK micro-ISV marketing expert, is sharing his considerable expertise on marketing, SEO, Google AdWords and more on Fridays at MyMicroISV. Thanks Dave!]

[tags] Dave Collins, microISV, marketing[/tags]

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Bob WalshMEASURING FOR SUCCESS PART II:
skybox_gates_jobs.jpg

Bill and Steve – the Desktop Duo

skybox_gates_jobs.jpgThere’s a great joint appearance of Bill Gates and Steve Jobs at the D Conference you can watch at the D5 Site. The short version is the highlights reel, but don’t neglect the Prologue video. Me? I’m going to try and get through all seven parts of the full session.

Steve and Bill have a lot to talk about these days – their mutual adversary, Google. Both have been and are in the desktop PC industry, both are looking for ways to come to grips with a world transformed by the Internet.

[tags]D5, Bill Gates, Steve Jobs[/tags]

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Bob WalshBill and Steve – the Desktop Duo